'Really bothered about this': Potential sale of gov't-run low-income housing units raises concern

The province's social housing corporation is considering the potential sale of a few of its properties.

Province says social housing rental rates would still apply if properties sold

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor first fielded questions by the NDP about the government's plan to sell and repurpose some of its 18,000 low-income housing units. (CBC)

The province is considering selling off some of its low-income housing units —a move that bothers some Saskatchewan residents.

According to an email sent Wednesday by Kathy Young, a spokesperson for Premier Brad Wall, the province regularly evaluates its stock of low-income housing units managed by Saskatchewan Housing Corporation. 

The government owns about 18,000 low-income units through the corporation. It has sold more than 650 units since 2003. 

"Prior to divesting, we will first initiate conversations with local housing authorities and municipalities, and then, as soon as possible, meet with any tenants," Young's email states.

Fred Dulmage, a resident of Lemberg, Sask., said his mother-in-law lives in one of the senior complexes that could be up for sale.

"I am really bothered about this. I think government sort of takes advantage of people in rural Saskatchewan you know, people don't really know what's going on right now," he said.

"A lot of these seniors that are in there, they don't understand what's going on."

He said he heard whispers about the potential sale of these properties months ago, but was informed that a representative from the corporation recently addressed the town council on the issue.

In her email, Young said the province is in talks with municipalities and local housing authorities "to discuss opportunities for them" in regards to the properties. 

Rents won't rise

Young said if a building is sold into private hands, the new owner would have to uphold the existing tenancy agreements.

She also said the price of rent would remain the same for current tenants covered by the provincial social housing rate, which is 30 per cent of their income.

Dulmage doesn't buy that.

"If you believe that, I've got some seaside land in Arizona I'll sell you," he said.

"What private entity's going to come in under those kind of conditions? Say you're investing money in a corporation like this or senior complexes, hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly into the millions, and you're restricted on not making a profit — I don't think that works in a free enterprise society." 

Vacancies targeted

The province also says tenants will not be evicted and only vacant buildings which don't meet safety requirements could be demolished. 

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor previously said there were "chronic vacancies" in some rural  communities with less than 300 people, adding those complexes would be the focus of potential sales. 

Saskatchewan NDP MLA Ryan Meili says the government should be cautious about selling too many low-income housing units. (CBC News)

Cash grab

The NDP called the province's potential sale of low-income units a cash grab by the Sask. Party government that could evict seniors from their homes. 

It also criticized the government for attempting to offload these units onto municipalities by inquiring about opportunities to buy them. 

"They're looking under every possible rock they can to find enough dollars to prop up the budget to make it look good in 2020," said Dulmage. 

Dulmage said tenants in his mother-in-law's complex are set to discuss the issue with an official from the province Thursday, but he hopes the idea will be scrapped altogether. 

With files from CBC's Stefani Langenegger